Not Imran, but Army holds the Key
   11-Mar-2019
While continuing with a robust diplomatic initiative and economic pressure on Pakistan, India would do well to remain conscious of the primary decision-making role of the Pakistan Army and its next move
The world is today looking very closely towards India and Pakistan as the worst fears of a military face-off escalating into a nuclear holocaust becoming palpable. The Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, has attempted to diffuse the situation by returning the Indian pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan, within 48 hours of his capture.
The situation on the ground, however, is not as rosy as one would be given to believe. The Line of Control (LoC) is in turmoil with both sides resorting to intensive firing. India has reported civilian casualties, and so has Pakistan. The media of the neighbouring country is blatantly blaming India for the escalation which is entirely untrue since the other side is initiating the ceasefire violations. Newspapers in Pakistan continue to remain in denial about the downing of the F-16 fighter aircraft of their country.

 
 Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan with his Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa
 
The decision of Prime Minister Imran Khan to release Wing Commander Abhinandan has witnessed a fair degree of opposition in Pakistan from the political class as well as the media. Veteran army officers have spoken against the same on television. Hamid Mir, a noted Pakistani hawk presently working with Geo News tweeted, “Nawaz Sharif Govt released Indian pilot after eight days in captivity and lost his Govt within six months in 1999.”
 
Pakistan is definitely in a fragile state in the aftermath of Pulwama terrorist attack. Its teetering economy took a big hit due to the rollback of the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) by India. A country with a robust economy like India would not be affected by such measures, but for Pakistan, it has come as a body blow.Pakistan has come under pressure of the international community to set its house in order; it is probably due to this pressure that the country has made a move to ban the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and arrested its senior leadershipIt is notable here that post the 9/11 terrorist attack on the US World Trade Center, Pakistan had mobilised its troops on the eastern border with India to supplement its western border for the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). Indian never attempted to take advantage of the weakening of Pakistani defences.
 
Now, in the changed scenario, Pakistan Army is unsure of the Indian military response, and as such, it is panic-stricken. Consequently, it is thinning out from the western border with Afghanistan and space thus created is being filled by the Baloch fighters and Taliban militants. The incident of Baloch fighters capturing a Pakistan military camp in Gishkam area of Awaran District is a testimony of their increased influence and taking over the strategic space. The situation is expected to further deteriorate in the near future as the Pakistan Army keeps building up towards its Eastern borders with India. The panic move of forces from all the directions towards the border with India has also taken a debilitating toll on the already fragile Pakistan economy.
 
Pakistan has assured China that it will provide all security to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). To ensure the same, the country has deployed a Division size force for the protection of the corridor. With the movement of troops towards the Eastern border, CPEC is now at the mercy of militants. The success or failure of CPEC lies in the provision of foolproof security which now has been compromised with army pulling out due to the so-called threat from India. The provincial and inner security to the project has become a challenge and it could well lead to the project being stalled, something that Pakistan can ill afford.
 
With the political setup of both nations talking peace and India having clarified her stand of acting only against terrorists and their infrastructure in Pakistan, the movement of the Pakistan Army towards the border with India is unwarranted; it is unnecessarily raising the escalation levels and can lead to a confrontation that Pakistan is incapable of absorbing. The Pakistani Army is keeping its cards close to its chest; it has maintained absolute silence, preferring to leave the talking to the political set up and the media.
 
On the positive side, a surprise package in the whole situation is the Pakistani middle class and educated society that has taken to the streets to raise a voice against war and had put up strong demand for the release of the Indian pilot. An organisation named “Women in struggle for empowerment” carried out a rally in Lahore against the escalation of the situation into an all-out war. They carried banners saying “war is not a solution” and “Women against war.” Other banners demanded, “Safe return of Abhinandan Varthaman” with hashtags of #NoToWar, #IStandAgainstHatred, #ProfilesforPeace etc. It is this voice that should gain centrality in the Pakistani thought process.
 
Pakistan has come under pressure of the international community to set its house in order; it is probably due to this pressure that the country has made a move to ban the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and arrested its senior leadership, including the close relatives of Masood Azar.
 
It is hoped that Pakistan will not allow its narrative to be guided by its Army as hither-to-fore and will believe the solemn commitment given by India that her fight is only against terror and not the country as a whole. The gullible populace of Pakistan should not remain sedated by Pakistan Army’s call for a response to the so-called escalating threat from India.
 
While continuing with a robust diplomatic initiative and economic pressure on Pakistan, India would do well to remain conscious of the primary decision-making role of the Pakistan Army and remain wary of its next move of which there is no indication whatsoever. No let down in vigilance and absolute preparedness to meet all contingencies should remain in place till Pakistan gives a definite indication on the ground of having winded down the terrorist camps. Along with this, the Pakistan Army will need to demonstrate its readiness to roll back the military build up on its borders with India.
(The writer is a reputed security expert, columnist and author)